Olena Kravchenko in 1986

Olena Kravchenko in 1986

Twenty-three years ago today, a steam explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant sent a plume of radioactivity over the western Soviet Union, Europe, and the eastern U.S. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated.

Just five days later, unaware of the danger, ELAW partner Olena Kravchenko marched with hundreds of children in a May Day parade near Kyiv. She marched again on May 9, to celebrate a Soviet victory in World War II. The Soviet government did nothing to prevent these large gatherings so close — in both time and distance — to the contamination site.

“Many in my generation have died of thyroid cancer. We had no idea there was any danger,” she says.

The Soviet government didn’t even admit there had been an accident until radiation set off alarms in Sweden. Residents of Prypiat, site of the reactor, were evacuated but no one else was given cause for alarm. In late May, Olena’s father traveled to Prypiat to organize a train to rescue 100 children.

Olena is making sure that Ukraine never again pays the high price of state secrecy. Olena now works at Environment-People-Law, Ukraine’s leading public interest environmental law organization. She is Editor of EPL’s journal and helps teach communities how to access environmental information.

Olena traveled to Eugene for the ELAW Annual Meeting in February and inspired colleagues from around the world with her dedication to making the planet safe.

Thank you Olena!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director